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Guiding Pedestrians: HAWKs in the Lead, While Pelicans and Puffins Fall Behind
More and more cities are installing hawks -- high-intensity activated crosswalks -- in an attempt to make their streets safer for pedestrians. Photo via wolfpix.

More and more cities are using HAWKS -- high-intensity activated crosswalks -- in an attempt to make their streets safer for pedestrians. Photo via wolfpix.

A few weeks ago, we published a post featuring a few ornothologically inspired pedestrian crosswalks, including pelicans, puffins, toucans, and HAWKs.

Which is best for pedestrians, we wondered?

Recently, the HAWK has been winning over an increasing number of urban planners and guiding more and more pedestrians safely across U.S. city streets. As Delaware Online reported on Saturday, a new HAWK signal over Route 72 on the University of Delaware campus, activated on Friday, adds Delaware to a growing list of states installing HAWKs. Other states with HAWKs include Georgia, Minnesota, Virginia, and Arizona, where the HAWK was born about a decade ago, in Tucson.

Delaware’s first HAWK cost about $75,000; the University of Delaware covered two-thirds of the cost and the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) paid the rest.

HOW IT WORKS

For a refresher, here’s how the HAWK signals work:

  • When not activated, the signal is blanked out.
  • The HAWK signal is activated by a pedestrian push button. The overhead signal begins flashing yellow and then solid yellow, advising drivers to prepare to stop.
  • The signal then displays a solid red and shows the pedestrian a “Walk” indication.
  • Finally, an alternating flashing red signal indicates that motorists may proceed when safe, after coming to a full stop. The pedestrian is shown a flashing “Don’t Walk” with a countdown indicating the time left to cross.

Until January of this year, states needed special approval from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to install HAWKs. But the HAWK improved pedestrian safety enough to earn its place in the most recent version of the FTA standards manual, published in January. This revision instantly provided transport planners around the country with a new and effective tool.

Data show that HAWKs improve pedestrian safety significantly. Researchers from the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University analyzed before-and-after data from 21 HAWK crossings in Tucson and found a 50 percent reduction in all pedestrian accidents, and a 13 to 29 percent reduction in all crashes at the sites.

HAWK MANIA

After activating the state’s first HAWK, DelDOT is already considering a few other spots for HAWKs. Georgia has installed a few HAWKs around the state, and according to Georgia Department of Transportation spokesman Mark McKinnon, the state is set to activate eight more in the coming week. Georgia’s new HAWK signals cost about $120,000 each and are located along two major stretches of road where pedestrians attempt to cross through several lanes of traffic.

Alexandria, Va. installed a HAWK at a dangerous T intersection where pedestrians must cross a four-lane road to reach a bus stop. St. Cloud, Minn. also installed a HAWK last year on Highway 23, where pedestrians were running through traffic to go between a public library, on one side, and a high school and park on the other. Blake Redfield, St. Cloud’s traffic systems manager, sings the HAWK’s praise, saying, “It kind of knocks your socks off from a visibility standpoint.”

Middle school students in Juneau, Alaska are also safer crossing the road after the city installed a HAWK crossing in late 2009.

Now that states don’t have to ask for special permission to install HAWKs, we’re likely to see a HAWK boom in the coming months.  As drivers become more accustomed to HAWKs, the lights will be even safer; some drivers still become confused when they see the lights deactivated, since they think it means the light has lost power.

Installing a new HAWK pedestrian crossing on Route 72, on the University of Delaware campus. Image via Delaware Online.

Installing a new HAWK pedestrian crossing on Route 72, on the University of Delaware campus. Image via Delaware Online.

A new HAWK crosswalk was activated on Friday on Route 72, on the University of Delaware campus. Image via Delaware Online.

A new HAWK crosswalk was activated on Friday on Route 72, on the University of Delaware campus. Image via Delaware Online.

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  • Preston

    The increased usage of hybrid pedestrian beacons (HAWKs) should primarily be attributed to it’s standardization in the 2009 FHWA MUTCD. As more states begin adopting or basing their own state traffic control manuals on the 2009 MUTCD, the more HAWKs you will see.

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